I was so reluctant to read this book, but Ruby had been trying to convince me for months and then I saw a copy in the $1 bargain bin and I realized resistance was futile.
And boy am I glad I did! Amelia is a total sleepover party, BFF charm swapping, kindred spirit kind of character. She's a graveyard restorer and while there's definitely an ick factor to the profession (especially when fresh bodies turn up where they don't belong and oh my gosh that crypt scene), but it also shares all the cool historical mysteries stuff that I love about old historical house books.
The fact that she can see ghosts is a blessing and a curse, but I don't blame her at all for being a somewhat reluctant medium. I also don't blame her for being a reluctant romantic partner for one of her choices because, eh, I'm not sold on him (he has dead wife issues), but I totally blame her for not jumping all over her book 2 love interest because he is absolutely perfect for her.
Each book ends with the central mystery solved, but there's an overarching mystery (the dead wife, who so inconveniently haunts her husband) and this isn't finished yet. I read the first book fully expecting to find it meh. Instead, as soon as I finished it I checked out the sequel (which I loved even more) and then the third book. Now I'm impatiently waiting for book four to come out and considering just re-reading book two again while I wait. Definitely recommended.
Purchased #1, library for 2 & 3 Rating: 4 out of 5 for the series overall
I have to admit, my expectations got the better of me. I KNEW Slayers would have to be different enough from Janette Rallison's other books to warrant the use of a pseudonym, but I kinda figured the dragons and genre shift would have been enough.
Basically, I was expecting a Janette Rallison romantic comedy told in the first person, but with dragons and more action. But no, there is a LOT more that's different. Don't expect Janette Rallison. Accept C. J. Hill and forget Janette Rallison, otherwise you might find yourself disappointed.
It's like there's a GIGANTIC WALL between us
I'm a character girl, and so third person narratives start off at a disadvantage, though it can work for me--just look at Harry Potter! Unfortunately, this one didn't cut it with me.
I couldn't connect with the characters AT ALL. All I knew about them was what was on the very shallow surface. I really couldn't care less about any of them because I felt like I didn't know any of them, or even have any sense of them at all. We're talking zeros on the WWMCD Test, and after spending 373 pages together, that's pretty darn disappointing.
The antagonist was also too "stock villain" for my tastes, but there is a lot of potential for a more nuanced approach. I think and hope the sequel will explore this character more. The romance felt forced to me too, and while there are two options, I wasn't feeling either of them (mostly because I didn't KNOW either of them).
Let's embrace the duology!
Since I didn't connect with the characters, I ended up bored for the majority of the book. Nothing really happened. Tori comes to dragon camp, meets the other campers, learns she's descended from dragon slayers, is told she needs to risk her life trying to destroy a clutch of dragons when they hatch, dithers A LOT about whether she wants to commit to this path (which of course we know she will) and worries A LOT about her romantic prospects (which bored me).
There. That's the first 250 or so pages. Don't worry, I didn't spoil anything. That's also the jacket blurb. I am an impatient reader, and so for me it took TOO LONG for the action to finally start.
I'm thinking Slayers has fallen victim to the dreaded Series Stretching. I can't say for certain until I read book two, but I think book one and two probably should have been smushed into one volume. The first 250 or so pages of Slayers could have been cut and condensed down to fit into the first 2-4 chapters and then the events of book 2 could have been added after that. I think I would have enjoyed that a lot more. But, again, I am an impatient reader.
Other writing stuff
Most of the book is told through the third-person with a focus on Tori, but every once in a while there is a chapter with a third-person focus on another character. These chapters worked ok, especially with certain characters, but the fact that they were all inexplicably written in italics seriously threw me.
I ended up mentally whispering and placing all kinds of extra emphasis on these sections as if they were an "oooo *wave hands* mystical dream sequence" when really they were just normal sections told from different characters' POVs. I was not a fan.
So, forget the execution. How about the story?
The story rocks. Totally rocks. Think Percy Jackson meets Jurassic Park plus slaying and super powers. It doesn't get much better than that!
The dragon mythology was intriguing, especially since it took a more scientific approach than fantasy and magic (albeit, science-lite). I'm not sure all the i's were dotted and t's were crossed there, but enough of a framework was set up that I felt comfortable and excited about this new approach.
I also loved how the dragons were predators. Sure, I love the books where everyone can get a cuddly dragon BFF of their very own, but, well, dragons don't look very cuddly, do they? The dragons in Slayers are pure animal and they wouldn't hesitate to chow down on a toddler or BBQ one of their human handlers. They were scary and I can totally understand why Tori would want to cut and run.
(Except, as a MC, that's just lame. *I* can run. Tori needs to enthusiastically fight to the death. I don't care how bad her odds are).
The nature of Tori's individual power was engaging and almost played out like a mystery. She finally discovers what she can do at about the midpoint of the book, and from there to the end it was fun unraveling how she could use her power and what it meant.
The later part of the book is also when all the good stuff started to happen. I finally got some great action and a dragon even made an appearance! A can of worms was also opened and I'm curious to see how that is going to play out in the sequels.
While I liked and appreciated the dragon mythology, I'm pretty meh on everything else. What I really wanted was Janette Rallison (first-person narrative included- she does those so well!), and that's just not what I should have expected.
I'm not sure if I'm hooked enough by the dragon mythology to continue on, especially if there's a lot of slow-paced filler in the sequel. If it lands in my lap, then I'd probably read it. If I hear from reviews that the sequel is chock full of dragon-killing goodness then, well, I'm game.
Now how many are written from the perspective of Henry VIII?
VIII is the only book I know of that takes this approach (though if there are others, please share!) and for that alone I'd say it's worth reading.
At least for Tudor fans, because I'm really not sure it stands on its own for the non-Tudor fan. There's a lot of jumping around, and Henry VIII is not the most likable person so I wouldn't really recommend this to readers who aren't already invested in Henry's story.
VIII follows Henry's life from early childhood through death, but significantly more emphasis is placed on his youth. Childhood through Catherine of Aragon takes up more than half the book, Anne Boleyn gets about a quarter, and the remaining four wives share the final quarter.
See a problem? The pacing and plotting of VIII was inconsistent and uneven. This is further exacerbated by pages and pages spent on Henry's early years, primarily focused on jousting, gambling, and other sporting activities. Learning about Henry's interest in jousting is good. Having it repeated over and over without adding anything new to the narrative isn't very good.
A lot of focus is also spent on Henry's visions. This was a nice way of showing Henry's belief in a god-ordained rule and his fears of deviltry (both which had a significant impact on his actions), but I think the author took things too far. I read too many pages about fictional hallucinations and not nearly enough about actual historical events.
On the positive side, H. M. Castor does a nice job providing context and motivations for Henry's actions. The psychological and historical impact of the Wars of the Roses, the rule of his parents, and the death of his brother are all explored to explain his drive for sons and empire building.
Henry's relationships with his mother was particularly well drawn, though I take issue with the way his relationship with Arthur and his father (oh what a one note villain!) was presented. I was hoping VIII would provide me with more of the "why" behind Henry's actions, and H. M. Castor does a pretty good job addressing this.
That said, once you get beyond Henry's early years, you're almost better off watching Showtime's The Tudors. As for depictions of Henry's personality, the show does a better job at displaying the nuances of Henry's character. H. M. Castor's Henry was a little too one note and rarely showed the softer, caring, passionately loving side of Henry that made him such a mercurial terror.
The most disappointing thing about VIII is how many major historical events are completely omitted or seriously glossed over. Wolsey goes from being alive and in favor, to dead. Ditto Cromwell. Thomas More is barely mentioned. Suddenly Henry is married to Katherine Howard, then all of a sudden she's dead.
Important events like this are told briefly, often after the fact, and in an extremely flippant manner. As a first person narrative, this does help establish Henry's callous personality well, but, as I said, it removes all nuance and distorts his character. His agonizing over his decisions did not come through at all.
Worth the read for Tudor fans for the novelty factor of finally having a book told from Henry's point of view instead of one of his many wives. The chapters are super short (1-4 pages on average), so even though this is a big book (my copy clocked in at 415 pages), it's still a fast read.
I think the best approach to VIII is to look at it as a part of a whole. On its own, VIII stands poorly as a one stop shop exploration of Henry VIII. But, as another book among many to read to explore the Tudor era, it proves a nice addition.
There's a lot of promise here, but I think a heavier hand on the part of the editor and a more nuanced approach to Henry's personality would have done wonders. I'm curious to see what H. M. Castor writes next, but I would check it out of the library first.
There seems to be an endless supply of animal stories where the creature conquers great adversity to be reunOriginally posted on Small Review
There seems to be an endless supply of animal stories where the creature conquers great adversity to be reunited with the love of its human companion. A Dog's Way Home did not stand out in the genre for me, but it did warm my heart, which is exactly what a book like this should do.
A Dog's Way Home alternates chapters between Abby's first person narration and Tam's journey (narrated in the third person). At first I wondered why Abby's sections were there and if they could possibly be interesting. Maybe it's because I'm a dog lover, but I wanted to focus on Tam's journey and I was bored and frustrated for the first quarter whenever the focus shifted back to Abby's life.
The Abby parts were especially annoying to me in the beginning (I get it, you want your dog back. You miss him. You HAVE TO DROP EVERYTHING AND FIND HIM NOW!), which I'm sure makes me sound cold hearted. But I'm not, I swear!
Really, I can totally empathize with Abby and if I was in her position I would move mountains to get my dog back. But when reading a book? It got kind of annoying hearing the same thing over and over in each chapter. BUT...
More than expected
After a little while Abby's chapters started to get more interesting as her own journey began to take shape. Tucked between the dog story is a contemporary book about family and friendship that contained unexpected depth, heart, and insight.
While this may sound like a cluttered plot, Bobbie Pyron skillfully wove the threads together to make a balanced and well-paced story with the contemporary sections beautifully complementing the animal journey.
I don't love contemporary issues like this so I wasn't in love with it, but it was nicely done. These Abby chapters were filled with enough plot and depth that they could easily stand on their own without the Tam parts (but I'm glad the Tam parts are there too).
Little puppet made of pine
Though I did warm to Abby's chapters, I never warmed to Abby herself. I like her because I can connect with her over our shared love of dogs, but other than that she actually irritated me. It's hard for me to pinpoint exactly why I didn't click with her, but I think part of it is that she didn't ring entirely true to me.
To me she read more like an adult trying to sound like a kid than like an actual kid. The other children were less fleshed out, but they also felt a little off and I had a hard time connecting with or deeply caring for any of them. In contrast, Abby's parents, the other adult characters, and Tam all felt a lot more genuine and I cared for all of them.
STOP HURTING PUPPIES! Please?
Poor Tam goes through horrible experiences. Now, ok, I didn't expect a cakewalk here, but I was hoping for something more on the level of Homeward Bound (Disney's G-rated movie) than the more realistic bleeding and broken puppy I got.
It wasn't all a downer and Tam does encounter a lot of heartwarming help along the way, but prepare for something a little more PG than G.
The worst for me was an event that occurred on page 112. I almost DNF-ed the book right then and there (though I'm glad I didn't). If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to just skip right over chapter 20 entirely. Animal softies like me might wish to do the same.
A Dog's Way Home was a solid animal story and I'm happy to have read it (even if it did make me miss my dog like crazy). It is clear Bobbie Pyron is a dog lover and she writes about dogs--both from their POV and the POV of those who love them--with care and insight.
A Dog's Way Home is likely to be a hit with animal and contemporary lovers. A good fit for the classroom, though probably better suited for older elementary to MG readers. Adult readers might appreciate the development of the parents.
Song of the Nile picks up right where Lily of the Nile left off and I was immediately sucked back into Selene's world. I don't know whether it is Selene's captivating first person narrative or if it is Stephanie Dray's meticulous attention to detail, but rarely have I been so thoroughly absorbed in a book as I was with this series.
I could clearly picture everything Selene saw, taste what she ate, and feel what she felt. I felt like I was growing and changing along with Selene as she developed as a mother and a ruler.
At one point, I was so into what I was reading that I actually angrily cursed a character who was INFURIATING me for the way they were treating Selene. It was totally an involuntary reaction, and I cursed them vehemently...and, erm, out loud (that was an interesting reaction to explain because I was NOT alone when that happened. But luckily I was not at work, either).
I am so proud of you!
Selene's growth was tremendous, and while she matured a lot in Lily of the Nile, she still had a long way to go. Song of the Nile sees her finally breaking the shackles of her past and becoming the mighty woman I knew she could be. I am so proud of her.
But Selene's triumph comes late in the book and the time leading up to that is filled with delicious tension (oh my gosh--white knuckled, PLEASE THAT CAN'T HAPPEN! kind of tension!). The game of political chess Selene engaged in with Octavian in Lily of the Nile continues in Song of the Nile, but the stakes are higher. Selene's position is significantly more powerful than it was, but instead of adding security that only elevated the danger.
Like her mother before her, Selene uses her sexuality as a weapon and a snare. However, Selene is not simply another version of Cleopatra. She is both like and unlike her mother, and this internal struggle over following in her mother's footsteps or finding her own path takes a more prominent role in Song of the Nile. Selene's struggle to find herself and the right path for her--despite the expectations of others, resonated strongly with me.
A note on the historical accuracy
This is historical fiction, but it is not a straight restatement of events. Many of the events did happen, however, after looking into Selene's history a little (and reading the author's note), it seems like documentation of Selene's life is pretty sparse.
The more specific things Selene does in Song of the Nile are not backed up by history (as far as my very limited research shows), but they are not contradicted either. We just don't know. So could Selene have engaged in intense political and personal sparring with Octavian? Possibly.
Even more important (to me) is that Stephanie Dray wove in her fiction with reality in such a way that her fiction enhances and explains the gaps in what we know of the historical facts while staying true to the spirit and personalities of the historical players. Her characterizations of the Roman characters, especially through what would have likely been Selene's perspective, seems spot on to me.
Whoa baby! Everything I was hoping would happen did happen. Remember, this is an upper YA/Adult book.
And I'll just leave it at that.
There is another book planned, but Song of the Nile ends perfectly and more isn't necessary to make the story feel complete (but more is totally welcome!)
I really hope Stephanie Dray continues to write historical fiction because she is now solidly on my (very short) list of favorite historical fiction writers. I am left breathless by her powerhouse combination of tangible world building, historical reverence, fluid writing, and incredible character depth. More, please?